Cleaning out the garage is a ritual of emotional significance, a chore with meaning.
I was reminded of this recently, when my family gave our garage a much-needed cleaning.
There were boxes to go through, objects to consider. After the garbage has gone to the dump and usable objects dropped off at the Goodwill, there were still piles of knickknacks, souvenirs, and no-longer-used-but-still-valued keepsakes, like baby blankets, to carefully store again. Those things kept will be reconsidered in a decade or so…the next time the garage is cleaned out.
I was delighted to find my Halloween decorations, which I’d been looking for for the last five years. In this stash I found a ceramic witch, an anatomically-correct model of a human skull, and a mechanical spider that dances. Also found were my older son’s baby blankets, a copy of The Cure’s Disintegration on cassette tape, a pile of art supplies, old letters and cards, and of course hundreds of photos.
It was the box of photos that took the most time to go through. Thrown out were duplicates, negatives, and images that were poorly shot or out-of-focus. The strange thing is, I had no memory of this box of photos being in the garage. I thought I’d already gone through all of those photos five years ago when we moved to this house. I will put the keepable ones into existing photo albums on the next rainy day. I always leave a few pages at the back of albums for a little more.
Most of the photos I found were from my 20s. Some of the older photos were from one of my trips to Ireland when I was 21; the newest photo from this box was from the day my second son was born when I was 29. What a dynamic period of time that was! Looking over these photos, I see the many changes I went through, from a restless college student to the proud mom of two little ones. Aside from early childhood, it seems like the 20s are the most changing time for many of us. There are so many choices, yet so little wisdom in how to choose.
Also in that box were an amazing number of images of my older son’s first few years. How well-loved and adorable he was (and still is)! There were a lot of happy smiles in these photos, but I noticed in the photos with my second baby, those smiles looked more relaxed. First time parents tend to be nervous and self-doubting. But time and experience soften those anxieties. Second babies probably benefit from more experienced parents.
Digital photos are now the norm, and this is how I collect my memories, too. Sadly, my sons will probably never know the pure joy and nostalgia of discovering a box full of hundreds of old printed photos in their garages. This is why I think it’s important to order prints and put these treasures of time into physical photo albums. Swiping through a phone is not nearly as dear of an experience as carefully looking through the curated collection of family memories in an album. Maybe I’m old-timey, but there are some things technologies cannot improve on, and printed photos are among them.